On Friday, MJ Akbar’s counsel Geeta Luthra presented her final arguments on the BJP leader’s defamation suit against journalist Priya Ramani. Neither Ramani nor her lawyer, Rebecca John, attended the afternoon hearing in the Rouse Avenue court of Additional Metropolitan Magistrate Vishal Pahuja. Akbar didn’t turn up either.
Reading out Akbar’s complaint against Ramani, Luthra argued that the allegations made by the journalist cast a shadow on the reputation of her client and tarnished his career of 44 years. “The salacious and malicious statements made by Ramani are ex facie defamatory,” he said. “They have caused irreparable and great damage to Akbar’s reputation.”
When the Me Too movement swept India in late 2018, Ramani accused Akbar of sexually harassing her during a job interview. The former editor responded by filing a defamation suit against her in October 2018.
On Friday, Luthra demanded to know if “anybody can tar anyone’s image without any evidence like phone records, images or videos”. “We can’t be a social media country,” she added.
She also questioned why Ramani hadn’t complained about her harassment when it allegedly happened. “If someone had to make a grievance, it could have been made then and there,” she added.
She read out the in which Ramani described her harassment and then brought up her tweet revealing that the unnamed man she had written about was Akbar. The tweet is no longer publicly available since Ramani has . It read: “I began my piece with MJ Akbar story. Never named him because he did not ‘do’ anything. Lots of women have a worse story about this predator.”
After reading out the tweet, Luthra emphasised two words in it – “predator” and “pervert” – and proceeded to provide their dictionary definitions. While “pervert” is defined as “a person whose sexual behaviour is abnormal and unexpected”, she noted, “the word had a stronger meaning in the society” than that in the dictionary.
She then read out a series of Ramani’s tweets from 2018 and followed it up with a barrage of questions. “What sense would anybody get from it? That this man is bad, he’s a pervert, a predator.”
“Where is due care and caution? She never specifically mentioned in which parts of her article she was referring to Mr Akbar?”
Referring to Ramani’s tweet about Akbar’s resignation as the minister of state for foreign affairs, Luthra asked, “Is this what you say is your victory. The most important aspect of a person’s career is his reputation.”
The lawyer even brought up the sexual assault case against former Tehelka editor Tarun Tejpal. The Tejpal incident took place in 2013, Luthra noted, and Ramani could have “spoken at that time as well”.
She then read out a few testimonies. “His reputation has been damaged, dragged through the mud and left in tatters,” Luthra quoted one Veenu Sandal as testifying. “He told me there was no truth in the allegations made by Ramani.”
Tapan Chaki, a corporate communication consultant in Kolkata who has known Akbar for a long time, was quoted as testifying, “I have the highest regard for Mr Akbar, both as a man and a journalist.”
The lawyer concluded, “These people have worked with Mr Akbar for years and years and haven’t heard anything against him.” “Yet, this bandwagon happens,” Luthra said, referring to Ramani, “she jumps on it, saying that he’s the worst predator.”
Luthra will continue her arguments on February 28.